Unsure What Historical Fiction Is?

What do you think?  Lately I’ve been looking at the works of writers of historical fiction and what I mainly saw was authors like Elisabeth Storrs who sets her novels in the Etruscan era  and Alison Stuart whose novels are set in the 17th and 18th century England and started to worry that my novel “Where a Life Begins” wasn’t really “historical fiction” because it jumps back and forth between the wartime and post-war 1940’s and 1950’s and several different eras in Spain: Upper Paleolithic; Phoenician-early iron Age, Carthaginian, post-Roman-Visigoth, Christian-Crusades-Inquisition.  So it didn’t focus on just one era of history.  Was this a ‘no-no’? Could I be accused on being an ‘history  dilettante’? Its such a difficult genre to succeed in and avoid criticism.

Thankfully, I started to feel better when I came upon other sources that suggested that historical fiction could be divided into as many as 13 sub-genres (and there are others).  There was the “traditional” one, as mentioned above (though those authors might not agree); the “multi-period epics” that show how a specific place changes over the centuries; the “sagas” that follow families or groups of people over generations; the “western (US) historical novels”; the historical mysteries; romantic historical novels; historical adventure novels; historical thriller; literary historical novels; “time-slip novels” where characters shuttle between eras; “alternative history” novels where history happens differently such as where Hitler’s destiny is altered at an early age; and even “historical fantasy novels“.

I certainly breathed a sigh of relief as I’d been referring to “Where A Life Begins” as historical fiction.  But it still doesn’t seem to fit into any of these categories and so I’ve been “cross-genring”  (I know that’s not a real word) it, as historical/criminological/political/adventure fiction … though some people might even see some science-fiction or fantasy in it – and even history from a woman’s perspective, but I suppose such sub-genres don’t exist in the “real world”.  But does it matter?


What is great writing?

I’m bothered about the difference between “good” and “great” writing. Of course, there are lots of little rules for “good writing” and they are important, but what is “great writing? Is it just something we know when we see it; or at least we hope we do?  Or can we set out some criteria for “great writing”.  I don’t want to think that “great writing” is something intangible and simply unable to be defined. Maybe it is, but I don’t want to think that.  I need to know what I’m aiming for!

I don’t think any author can look at their own writing and say “this is great”.  Maybe for a moment and for a sentence or a paragraph, but usually the “high” subsides – at least for me. Equally I don’t think we can rely on what other people, like our readers, say.  Some people just love hyperbole – “this is brillant and hilarious!” and others are naturally reserved: “really good book. I thoroughly enjoyed it” (if you’re lucky)!

Equally I suspect that the “marketing professional’s take” on the writing process is just that.  Everyone thinks that “marketing” is critical and who am I to disagree. Recently I read that there are 12 rules for “irresistible content”  (if I understood them properly and I apologize if I’m doing them an injustice) : intriguing title; powerful opener, short sentences and paragraphs,  show your personality, use images, quotes, statistics, lists, effective stories and give the reader something to apply. The only thing omitted was the need for a “brilliant and attractive cover”.  Now all these may be useful tips for honing the writer’s craft and doing a good marketing job.  But to my mind, except for showing the reader your personality, they don’t have very much to do with “great writing”.

All I can say is: great writing has to make a connection with its readers; involve them; touch their hearts; make them laugh; make them cry; feel anxious and relieved. Make them feel they know the characters: care for them, identify with them, love them or hate them.  Make them want to read on and not put your book down. Make them want to know what happens next.   Help them discover something new or many things new or inspiring.  Leave them with  a feeling of enjoyment, satisfaction, pleasure and even elation (if you’re lucky).  Maybe that’s not all!

But don’t ask me how to do all that – maybe that’s the mystery .  If I could do even half of it, I’d be happy ….. at least for the moment.